Clearly, the First Step Is to Secure the Border
Unlike a number of current public officials, I have actually read the Arizona law that is drawing so much attention in the debate over immigration. Considering that my mother came here legally from England after World War II and chose to become a U.S. citizen, I deeply appreciate the importance of this issue.
The issues associated with immigration are not only felt in the border states, they are felt right here in New York and in our District. Nationally, there are an estimated 13 million illegal immigrants. New York is known to have the third highest illegal immigrant population in the U.S., with more than one million illegal immigrants calling New York home (2008 figures). The border state of Arizona has roughly 1.3 million illegal immigrants residing there, not very much more than here in New York.
The costs associated with the ever-increasing illegal immigrant population are staggering. Annually, the United States spends roughly $30 billion on educating, caring for, and in some cases, incarcerating the millions of people who are here illegally. In 2006, New York spent close to $5.5 billion to educate, care for, and incarcerate illegal immigrants.
Steps Toward a Solution
* The borders must be secured as a first critical and credible step. Without secure borders, neither the U.S. public nor those who seek to come here illegally will believe the United States is serious about the issue.
* Border integrity is a component of national security.
* E-Verify should operate as smoothly as possible for employers to check immigration status. E-Verify should be expanded to include mandatory use by all employers. But this must occur in tandem with securing the borders; to place the entire burden of enforcement on employers is not sound policy. Further, visa enforcement must be significantly improved; many of those illegally in the country have overstayed their visas and remain here without penalty or tracking.
* Provision must be made for an efficient guest-worker program to accommodate agricultural employers. My talks with such employers across the district have led me to conclude that agricultural employers in the 19th District, and their migrant workers, are obeying the law. The workers provide important farm labor, and pay U.S., state and Social Security taxes. They return home every year for several months to visit their families; we should not needlessly complicate their legally returning to this country.
* I am opposed to a blanket amnesty. We have a long-established procedure in place for becoming a U.S. citizen. We must respect the rule of law. I do support a registration program for illegal immigrants currently within U.S. borders, to be conducted during a defined grace period, and only to be pursued after securing the borders. Such a program would have to include a substantial financial penalty, a guest worker permit and, if the immigrant desires to become a U.S. citizen, abiding by the established citizenship process and waiting periods.
* Illegal immigrants who are found to be criminals or who do not register and are later apprehended should be deported.
* The security of our national borders is the responsibility of the federal government. States like Arizona that have enacted their own laws have done so only because the federal government has been unwilling to resolve this issue.